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Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Soup w/ Pomegranate, Pumpkin Seeds, Crème Fraiche & Nutmeg

pumpkin_soup

Makes 10 – 8 ounce servings:
1-3lb Pumpkin: skinned, seeded, cubed, roasted and pureed or 2-29oz. cans Organic Pumpkin Puree
4 cups Whipping Cream
2 cups Milk
2 cups Vegetable Stock
1 teaspoons Sea Salt
¼ teaspoon Freshly Ground Nutmeg (another ¼ teaspoon for roasting)
¼ teaspoon Ground Allspice (another ¼ teaspoon for roasting)
¼ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon (another ¼ teaspoon for roasting}
2 tablespoons Light Brown Sugar (another 2 tablespoons for roasting)
1 Lemons, juiced
Cayenne Pepper to taste (usually depending on how you prefer, it should give a subtle kick on the back of your tongue)
¼ cup Sour Cream
¼ cup Whipping Cream
1cup roasted and salted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
2 Pomegranates, seeds only
¼ cup Pumpkin Seed Oil

Directions:
Combine the ¼ cup whipping cream and the ¼ cup of sour cream (you just made crème fraiche) and place in the refrigerator to use later as part of the soup’s garnish. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, cut your pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and place on a backing sheet. Season the pumpkin with Nutmeg, Allspice, Cinnamon, and Brown Sugar. Place the pumpkin in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until fork tender. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, with a large spoon remove the pulp from the rind and discard the rind, place the pulp in a blender and blend until smooth. In a large pot combine the pumpkin puree, vegetable stock, milk and cream. Whisk together for 2-3 minutes on medium high heat until all of the pumpkin puree has been incorporated into the liquid, being careful not to allow the cream to scald the bottom of your pot.
When the pumpkin puree has been incorporated and the consistency of the soup is smooth it is time to season.

While whisking the soup add the Nutmeg, Allspice, Cinnamon, Brown Sugar, and Sea Salt (if you do not have Sea Salt substitute with any other salt you may have). Simmer for 10-15 minutes allowing the spices to permeate the soup. If the consistency of the soup is too thick now would be the time to add more liquid to thin it out (you can use vegetable stock or milk). At this point, taste and adjust the seasoning.

The amount of seasoning I use for my recipe is what I recommend, however you may like it a little more savory or sweet, depending on your taste. Make adjustments according to your preference.
Remember when adjusting seasoning, you can always add but you can never take away. Meaning don’t be heavy handed when adjusting the seasoning, you do not want to ruin what you’ve worked so hard to make.

Tips: After you have reached the desired flavor and level of seasoning you want, there’s a little secret to take your soup to the next level. Because this is a creamy soup it has the potential to be very rich and heavy. One way you can cut through the richness is to add a little acid. Lemon juice, that’s an acid in the culinary sense. The acid in the lemon juice will lift the flavor and cut through the fat of the cream just enough so that it still coats your tongue, it is very subtle. Next, cayenne pepper, a little will go a long way. All you want is enough to feel a little bite on the back of your tongue.

Garnish: Retrieve the Crème Fraiche from the refrigerator, and gather the remaining ingredients, Chopped Chives, Pomegranate Seeds; there’s a great YouTube video on how to get the seeds out of a pomegranate, Roasted and Salted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas), and Pumpkin Seed Oil.

Ladle 8 ounces of soup into a bowl and garnish. Drizzle some of the Crème Fraiche in the middle of the soup, top with several Pomegranate Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds and Chives, drizzle with Pumpkin Seed Oil and you’re done. The contrast in colors is beautiful and the combination of sweet, savory and tart combines to make the perfect soup. I know you’ll agree.

This soup has become a family favorite and holiday tradition at my house, maybe it will be at yours too.

The Grove Steakhouse at Viejas

Having been a chef for the last 15 years and living in Alpine for the past three, it has been a struggle finding places to eat without having to drive 20 or more miles into La Mesa, San Diego or any of the beach communities.  That being said I have begun searching and scouring the East County to satisfy my needs as a chef as well as really discover what East County has to offer.  It’s time to do some homework.

Having been to the recently (early 2013) renovated Viejas Resort and Casino, which is far better than the previous version, I wondered if the restaurants had also undergone such changes.  I had heard mixed reviews about The Grove Steakhouse at Viejas but wanted to venture out into my own backyard and like I said before, “Do some homework.”  I made a reservation for two.

grove_frontTaking a short drive to Viejas we valeted the car and walked to The Grove Steakhouse through the beautifully decorated hotel lobby, chic and modern.  Hand blown glass feathers adorned the walls, chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and earth toned colors throughout with rich wood accents.  We proceeded on through the casino to the entrance of The Grove Steakhouse.

We were promptly greeted by the evening’s hostess and escorted to our cozy booth.  The interior of the restaurant was incredible, iridescent blue, green and white glass tiles on some walls, deep blue embossed paisley wallpaper on the others.  Rich fabric covered the cushions and chairs, and the final touch were the large, white, floor to ceiling trees that ran down the center of the restaurant.

After getting settled our server welcomed us, introduced himself and presented us with the wine list and dinner menus.  He thoroughly explained the wine list and dinner menu as well as informed us of the evening’s special, which was Cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew that originated in San Francisco. After taking a few minutes to peruse the menu we ordered.  (The server was very knowledgeable about the menu.  Along with our drinks was delivered an Amuse-bouche (a small bite sized Hors d’oeuvre).  Puff pastry filled with herbed goat cheese and a thinly sliced cucumber. Always a pleasant surprise, and gives a touch of class.

grove_scallopFirst course; Fennel and Coriander Crusted Day Boat Scallop.  Beautifully seared and nestled on a bed of sautéed, shaved brussel sprouts, beurre blanc and cilantro oil.  The scallop was huge, buttery, flavorful and light.  You wouldn’t think that brussel sprouts would be served with scallops however when sautéed it provides just the right amount of piquant to cut through the richness of the dish and allowing the scallop to remain the star.

grove_porkbellySecond course; Maple Glazed Pork Belly served with a salad of fennel, radish, frisee, duck confit and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette.  The Pork Belly melted in your mouth as soon as you bit into it, the crispy sweet, salty flavors hit on just about every taste bud, and then came the Meyer lemon vinaigrette, which finished off the last taste bud.

grove_duck
Second Course; Roasted Duck Breast with pea shoots, potato, apples sautéed in truffle honey, and blackberries.  The duck breast was cooked as you would expect, with a perfectly executed crispy golden brown skin.  The pea shoots gave the dish a touch of Spring, bright green in color and full of flavor, the potatoes provided substance but fell short in flavor, however the apples made up for what the potatoes lacked.  They were coated in a thin sweet coating that mimicked a thin candy shell, blackberries were sliced and strategically placed around the duck to complete the plate.

Steak! Oh yeah, the main reason why we are here.  Viejas uses Sterling Silver Premium Beef which consists of only Prime and top tier Choice grain-fed beef cattle, rich in marbling and aged for a minimum of 21 days to maximize the steaks flavor and tenderness.

I am a sucker for a good Rib eye so it was a no brainer.  I ordered the Bone-In Rib eye.  My wife ordered the Special, Cioppino.

grove_ciopinoThe Cioppino was amazing, name a seafood; it was in there.  Mussels, clams, shrimp, sea bass, salmon, scallops served in a rich herb scented tomato broth.  The seafood was fresh, delicious, and abundant.  The broth coated your tongue like velvet and then was gone just as fast, so much flavor.  If you’re a seafood lover this is a must.

grove_steak
My Rib eye was served as requested, medium rare.  Lightly dressed greens, half a tomato, and fried onions garnished the plate.  Traditional, simple and not over complicated.  Grill marks formed perfectly charred diamonds on the steak, the meat was well seasoned, tender and juicy with just the right amount of marbling and fat.  It was full of flavor, cut like butter, and melted in my mouth.

grove_dessert'Our plates were cleared and our server recommended the Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert.  The cake was served with Crème Anglaise, Chantilly Cream, and fresh raspberries.  It was decadent, the raspberries were sweet and tart, enough to cut through the richness of the cake and get you ready for the next bite. Well done!

It had been a wonderful evening of great food and conversation.  The restaurant was beautiful, service was impeccable, the Chef’s attention to detail in the dishes being served was apparent.  If you have not been to The Grove Steakhouse I recommend it.

Oh yeah, as we were getting up to leave the Lobster Mac and Cheese was being delivered to the table next to us, the one dish we missed out on.  It won’t be long before we’re back.

Alpine Beer Company

alpine_frontIf you don’t know of, or have never been to the Alpine Beer Company, then you’re missing out on true craftsmanship. Owner Pat McIlhenney, a retired Fire Fighter Captain and local to Alpine began making home brew in the early 1980’s, keeping in mind his ultimate goal of one day opening his own brewery.

After many years of experimenting, attending beer science classes, and apprenticing, Pat opened the Alpine Beer Company in 2002.  Originally wanting to be a neighborhood place and make beer for the Alpine locals he soon realized that his skill, know-how, and expertise had made Alpine beers some of the most sought after in the world.  Yes, I said, “world!”

alpine_barPat has met several travelers who have made the long journey, driving straight from the San Diego International Airport right to the Alpine Beer Company. He said he has been amazed by the response.  People from France, Germany, and South America as well as countless others from all over the United States and Canada are coming to taste his award winning beer.

Due to the overwhelming response he realized that in order to satisfy the demand of his customers he needed to expand, so he did. The expansion was completed in 2009 which greatly increased his capacity and enabled him to give the customers more of what they wanted, or even needed.

Adjacent to the brewery is the Pub where you can indulge in a pint or two as well as sample the menu inspired by Pat.  And guess what?  Yes, there is beer in some of the recipes.  That’s a given.

I had the Beef Brisket Sandwich, a toasted sweet roll topped with copious amounts of sliced brisket smothered in house made barbeque sauce. Smoky, hearty, and flavorful.  Served with coleslaw it is a definite must have when dining.

alpine_beersOn occasion the Alpine Beer Company brews a special release.  If you have ever driven by and seen a line pouring out the door down the sidewalk and wondered what is going on, it may be due to cultish anticipation and limited supply of another one of Pat’s creations.

Alpine Beer Company is truly a diamond in the rough.

In closing Pat wanted to ask all those who read this article for some feedback.  There is talk about the old Bread Basket location in the Alpine Creek Shopping Center being up for lease.  With that, the Alpine Beer Company Pub may entertain a move to a larger location due to the overwhelming response and its popularity if it gathers enough support.  To offer your feedback email Pat McIlhenney:  info@alpinebrewey.com

If you’re in the neighborhood or not, stop by the Alpine Beer Company located at: 2351 Alpine Blvd. Alpine, CA 91901 phone # (619) 445-2337.

The Hills Pub

hills_front

The team behind Eastbound Bar & Grill in Lakeside and Werewolf American Pub in downtown San Diego have done it again.  The Hills Local Pub in La Mesa had its Grand Opening in early April and has hit the ground running.

I spoke with Catherine Cannock, one of the Hills’ Managers, who stated, “The Hills Local Pub is different. Our customers aren’t just customers, they’re family and that’s how we treat them.”  And she’s right.  The atmosphere is casual and welcoming, kid friendly, and you’re greeted by several attentive members of the staff as you walk in.

One of the many things that sets them apart from their competition is that on Wednesdays they donate a percentage of their sales to charity. Anyone who has a cause they champion can contact Peter Malloy, the General Manager at peter@thehillspub.com to make arrangements. Also, be sure to check out their happy hour and other nightly specials including themed parties on Friday and Saturday nights.

Another thing that sets them apart is their well thought out and creative menu, not what you would think of from a traditional pub.  They have 24 beers on tap, which is made up of a majority of local breweries, wine, and get this, beer to go.

hills_fries

So, here’s what we ordered. Sweet Potato Waffle Fries dusted with powdered sugar and served with maple dipping sauce – Imagine candied yams with a delicious pecan crumble topping at Thanksgiving. Ok, do you have it? Well forget everything you know or think you know about how good these fries would taste, because they’re better. Crispy, savory and sweet all in the same bite, not to mention the delicious caramel and maple finish.  It was hard not to eat the entire plate by myself. You have never tasted sweet potato fries like this before.

hills_salad

Next, was the Superfood Salad – shredded brussel sprouts and kale, parmesan cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted almonds with a citrus avocado dressing. Hearty, chewy, crunchy, and tangy.  The citrus avocado dressing is perfect for this robust salad as it cools the heat from the raw brussel sprouts and kale. The sweet cranberries, toasted almonds and parmesan cheese beautifully harmonize with each other and compliment the salad. A lot of thought went into this creation and as their top selling salad, I would say the customers agree.

alpine_burger

Finally, the Bouffant Burger. A hand crafted beef patty, bacon, avocado, fried egg, American cheese, with chipotle sauce on a croissant bun. Many burger joints tout to have the best burger in town. Well I have to say that the Bouffant Burger destroys all other perceptions you may have about who owns that title. As you take that first bite you must firmly grasp the croissant and apply a little pressure to encourage the golden runny egg yolk to burst through its case and cascade over the meat, cheese, bacon and avocado. It provides a supreme richness that will take your breath away. This is a monster burger whose taste will floor you like no other.  You will not be disappointed.

I definitely recommend this place.  Great atmosphere.  Great beer. Great food. Reasonable prices. A fun place to go with friends or family.

Be sure to check them out at thehillspub.com, on Facebook and Instagram. Better yet go in and experience The Hills Local Pub, located at 8758 La Mesa Blvd. La Mesa, CA 91941.